107 Best Cruise Tips, Tricks, Secrets, and Freebies

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26. Most cruise line employees make less than you think

Ever wonder why there doesn’t seem to be any Americans on the waitstaff or the crew? By U.S. standards, the waitstaff are paid relatively low wages. According to Chron.com, pay rates can be as little as $800 per month for a job that can be 7 days a week. This is the reason that these workers are so appreciative of gratuities.

In fact, a recent financial report found that one company pays shipboard employees an average of less than $24,000 per year (although things like room and board are included). Keep in mind this average includes everyone from the captain to housekeeping, so many may make less than that.

27. Cameras are watching you constantly

Security camera
Cameras are everywhere on a cruise ship.

We’ve gotten used to seeing security cameras everywhere in life, but ships take it to another level. There are security cameras watching every public area of the major cruise ships. Don’t think you’ll be able to sneak off and do something you shouldn’t be doing. Here’s what Royal Caribbean says about their cameras:

“Royal Caribbean International has closed-circuit television cameras located in hundreds of strategic, public locations throughout the ship but not in private staterooms, public restrooms or private spa areas. These systems are upgraded as new and beneficial technologies are developed. Recordings from these cameras are routinely utilized by our security teams and made available to investigative authorities as requested.”

28. Hungry? Get a whole pizza for free

Nearly every ship you sail on will have a place to get free pizza by the slice. But what if you’re really hungry? You can order up a whole pie, free of charge. This way you get exactly what you want instead of having to eat a slice of whatever is available. It may take a few minutes to get your pie made, so be a little patient.

29. It is possible your ship could pick up refugees

If you are sailing from ports on the East Coast to the Western Caribbean, there’s a possibility you could find yourself in the middle of a refugee crisis. The waters between Florida and Cuba are where Cubans trying to make their way to America will set sail, hoping to reach the mainland.

It’s not unheard of for cruise ships to run across these people, sailing in makeshift rafts. Rules of the sea call for the cruise ships to render aid, meaning they will stop and help, even if in the middle of a cruise.

30. The gold and silver that cruise lines sell by the inch are plated, not solid

Those “gold by the inch” places on the ship? Sure it seems like a great deal, but definitely do your homework. Most of the time what they are selling is simply gold-plated. Here’s what one cruiser said after making this mistake:

“On our cruise aboard Holiday in November, there was a jewelry group called “Inch of Gold”. Don’t buy ! It says 18K gold layered. My jeweler said there is no gold. Not insurable. Don’t waste your money like I did.”

31. Authorities check the passenger list for warrants… and arrest them on the way back

If you have an arrest warrant, think twice before getting on a cruise. Once you board, local authorities will often run the names of the passengers through a database to check for any outstanding warrants. The result? Assuming the warrants are for minor items, they will then let the passengers enjoy the cruise before escorting them off the ship once it arrives back at port.

32. Sound can travel within the cabins when you make whoopie

No, the walls of your cabin aren’t paper thin, but sounds can travel between room. Keep this in mind if you decide to engage in “activities” in your cabin. You have to remember that you are in a small, confined space with lots of people around. Not everyone wants to hear what you do in the privacy of your cabin (especially if it happens late at night).

Keeping things a little quiet can make sure that your fun doesn’t mess with anyone else’s vacation.

33. Breakfast and lunch are also served in the main dining room

Everyone knows about dinner in the main dining room… but they usually eat the buffet for lunch and breakfast. If you want something higher quality, head to the main dining room instead of the buffet. They serve both meals, but with much smaller crowds. Best of all, the food is usually better as well, since it’s made fresh.

34. While there are lots of rules… you can usually get away with breaking them

There is a difference between rules and laws. Break a law and you’ll get busted. But break a rule, and you could just get a slap on the hand. For instance, if you don’t want to wear formal clothes on formal night, then don’t.

Cruise lines want everyone to have a good time. If you break a rule, they will usually just ask you to stop doing it. It’s very rare that they will kick you off the ship unless you are endangering other passengers.

35. Don’t think the “drink of the day” is a deal

Each day the bar will have a different drink of the day special. But just because they highlight it doesn’t mean it’s a deal. Often times the cruise lines just call it the “drink of the day” to get you to buy it, but don’t cut the price.

36. Check out the “secret decks” on your ship

Norwegian Encore at sea

Many ships have decks that not easily accessible, but are still public. These are fun spots to find on the ship, especially if you are looking for a little more privacy and to get away from the crowds. Click here to see a list of Carnival ships with these secret decks.

37. Cruise ships are a great place for spreading a virus (Wash your hands)

You know why you always hear about norovirus on cruise ships? That’s because if you were going to create the perfect place to spread a virus, you would build a cruise ship. Having thousands of people in an enclosed place and the same dining facilities is ripe for spreading illness.

To keep healthy, definitely use hand sanitizer, which is available all over the ship. Proper hand washing is also important.

38. Creepy? Larger ships will have a morgue

It’s macabre, but if you’re on a larger ship, then it likely has a morgue on board. It’s actually a good idea if you think about it. Cruise ships are carrying thousands of people 365 days a year. It’s a law of averages that someone will eventually pass away while on the ship. With a morgue on board they can keep the body in good condition until reaching a port.

39. Save money by asking for the “drink of day” in a regular glass

The “drink of the day” typically comes in a souvenir glass that you get to keep. If you want to save a few bucks, just ask for that drink in a regular glass. It will normally save you a couple of bucks while not being any smaller.

40. Only go early if you like standing in line

Are you the type or person that likes to get on and off the ship first? Then you better prepare to stand in long lines. With thousands of people trying to do the same thing, there are massive traffic jams for people waiting to either embark or disembark.

Instead, take your time and spend a few more minutes (or hours) enjoying a meal or relaxing on board. Once you are done, you can breeze through.

41. You can get in-room babysitting while you go party late at night

A cruise tip for you parents: You likely know that your cruise will have kid’s areas where you can drop the kids off and head to the pool or dinner. But some cruise lines like Carnival actually offer private in-room babysitting. It’s a great service that costs a little extra, but can keep your mind at ease if you want to go out and enjoy an evening on the ship. Here are some details from Carnival:

For the convenience of our guests, Camp Ocean offer Night Owls for children 6 months to 11 years, allowing parents time to enjoy the nightlife without having to worry about their little ones.

  • Night Owls is available each evening from 10:00pm-1:00am.
  • $6.75 per hour plus a 18% gratuity, per child
  • No discount for additional children or family rates. Fees apply per child.
  • Fees are due upon pick-up and paid via Sail & Sign Card directly to the Youth Staff on duty. Cash is not an acceptable form of payment.

42. Ports of call aren’t always idyllic

Sure, the photos on the cruise line website show crystal blue water, white sand beaches, and not a cloud in the sky. Truth is, however, that many port cities aren’t that nice — especially outside of the touristy area.

The Caribbean is rife with poverty and many of the people depend on the tourism dollars that cruise passengers bring. That means you can expect people hustling to make a dollar. You might find them pushy as they aggressively try to get you into a taxi or to their store, but a polite “no” will send the message.

43. It’s a floating city… where you only see part of it

You might go back and forth on the cruise ship and think you’ve seen every nook and cranny by the time you leave. There are places, however, where you will never set foot.

Hidden away primarily on the lower decks are spots like the engine room, crew quarters, service areas, and more. There are some “backstage” tours that you can take, but they are highly limited in the number of passengers that can go.

44. Your balcony isn’t as private as you think

Ships railing

Thinking of sunbathing “al fresco” on your balcony? Want to get a little risque with your partner in the fresh air? Keep in mind that your balcony isn’t all that private. The dividers between balconies are low to allow wind to pass through. They also are several inches above the floor to allow water to flow. That means anyone in the balcony next to you could easily see what’s going on without much effort.

45. Your ability to sneak in alcohol depends on a lot of factors

If you’re interested in sneaking in booze, then you should know the cruise lines are getting smarter by the day. Trust us, you aren’t going to smuggle alcohol aboard in a new way that they haven’t yet seen. Still, you can sneak drinks by them depending on the circumstances.

If the cruise is especially busy, they don’t have time to check every single bag. As long as you’re smart about your smuggling technique, there is a good chance you can get something by them.

46. Yes, some people get offered random upgrades to their cabin

Ever heard of the “upgrade fairy”? Many cruise passengers get random calls from the cruise lines offering upgrades from lower-grade rooms to higher-quality accommodations for super cheap. For example, upgrading from an interior room to a balcony room for just $200. It’s a way for the cruise line to make a little more money and for passengers to get a much better room.

How do you get a visit from the upgrade fairy? So far it appears random, but you will definitely have more luck if you are booked on a cruise where there is less demand (such as off-season cruises where rooms are harder to fill).

47. It’s so much cheaper to drink in port

Want to know the cheapest place to drink on a cruise? It’s in port!

If you want to get a good buzz going, check out the bars and restaurants in the area. Many of them not only have cheap drinks every day, but offer drink specials to entice cruisers to stop in. If you plan on drinking, get your fill in port and then walk back to the cruise ship that evening. For more tips on drinking cheaper, read this article.

48. You can always order your favorite dish, even if it’s not on the menu.

Wasn’t the chicken cordon bleu fantastic last night? Wish you could get it tonight? You usually can. Even if you don’t see an entree on the menu in the dining room, don’t think you can’t get it. Simply ask your waiter if it’s available.

This also works if you have a dish you’d like cooked up that isn’t even on the menu for your entire cruise. Keep in mind it might take a little longer to get your food.

49. Your itinerary isn’t set in stone

Your itinerary can change… right up until you dock in a port. The cruise lines have made adjustments to schedules based on everything from weather to protests. While it doesn’t happen often, changes are regular enough that you shouldn’t be surprised if one happens to your trip.

50. Cruise line transfers from the airport are a terrible deal

When you fly in for your cruise, you have to also arrange for transportation from the airport to the cruise port. We usually recommend a rideshare company like Uber or Lyft. What you don’t want to do is take the transfers offered by the cruise line.

Cruise line transfers seem like a great idea — after all, if you’re getting a ride from the cruise company to the port, you know you won’t miss your ship. However, the cruise transfers only run on the day of the cruise. That means if you fly in a day early for your trip, you are out of luck.

They are also expensive. For example, Carnival charges about $30 roundtrip per person to get you from the Miami airport to the Port of Miami — a 10-mile ride. Compare that to a taxi or Uber, which will charge you about $35 roundtrip for up to four passengers. Meanwhile, with a taxi or other transportation, you aren’t tied to the cruise shuttle’s schedule.

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43 COMMENTS

  1. These were all very helpful tips, many of which we have used on our past cruises. Another tip is: The walls in the cabins are metal, even if they don’t look like it. We take magnetic clips and hooks and use them to hold all the papers that are left in the cabin mailbox as well as to hang things that might need to dry. It helps keep the cabin organized.

  2. Bring a hole punch for your ship card to put on a lanyard–some ships have them in the casino-just ask them to punch a hole and give you the lanyard–makes it easy to carry card around neck.

  3. Excellent post that was concise and highly informative. Just the recommendation to look for off port parking saved me over $100 dollars. The shuttle to the ship only took us 10 minutes and we were dropped off closer to the ship than the people that parked in the ship parking area.

  4. Leaving your car at your home airport for a week or more can run up a pretty big bill. If you have the time, consider renting a car from the airport the day before your flight. When you return it to the airport just take the auto rental shuttle to the terminal. Do the opposite when you return home. We are Costco members and can rent a near new (more likely to make it to the airport or it will be replaced if it breaks down) for $25 to $30 per day.

    • Great Idea! We’re in FL and to drive and park at any other port besides Port Canaveral (we’re 20 minutes away from that, and can always find someone to drop us off) will cost at least another $160. Gas, parking fees, etc. We can rent a car here ($35) drive it to the port and turn it in. Do the same for the trip home. We’ve just saved $90 bucks, and don’t have to worry about leaving the car in some lot, or putting up to an extra 400 miles on it! (if we go to Miami round trip that is!)

  5. Great tips people!
    Going on our first cruise in December (Princess cruises. Miami to LA. Via Panama Canal)
    Any other advice/tips very welcome!

  6. It’s good to know that breakfast and lunch are also served in the main dining room, rather than just the buffet. My wife and I are hoping that we can go on a sunset cruise tour for our anniversary. We’ll have to check out the main dining room for food, as well as seeing if there are any secret decks if we can make it on a cruise.

  7. #95. EXTREAMLY BAD IDEA! A passport can be voided if random non official stamps are in it. Only official government immigration stamps are allowed

    • That’s “technically” true, however, we’ve never heard of it happening. We’ve also personally had these stamps in our passport and never had any questions about them.

    • if you are in the Port and you ask the Port Athorites where to get your passport stamped then it is not a “voidable” stamp. Because it is issued by that countries government. Those stamps would be part of the Visa Program if the passport was NOT from the US, I.E. if the Passport was Chinese the cruises might have needed a Visa in the first place and that stamp would end up being part of the Visa.

  8. The last time I cruised, our cruise critic group had a meet & greet, a gift exchange, a slot game and a special farewell luncheon. If someone from the group gets together with the hospitality people, they can arrange snacks, special meals and gifts for your groups. This was on the Celebrity and it was fantastic.

  9. One of the worse things you can suggest and encourage is bringing fruit and food ashore. When you come into the USA, fruit and certain foods are NOT allowed to be brought into the country. Respect this when traveling to other countries. It’s the LAW there too!

    • Australia has very strict biosecurity regulations. No food of any type will be allowed in to the country. There will be a quarantine inspection at each port and sometimes even sniffer dogs will be present. This will happen at each port of call in Australia, even if the cruise visits only Australian ports.

  10. Thank you for the information as it is very helpful as well as those that offered others. We are going on our first cruise ever right after Thanksgiving. It is our 25th anniversary and we are looking forward to it.

  11. You really shouldn’t put any unofficial stamps in your passport. It even says in the fine print in the back that any unofficial markings inside could invalidate your passport. It most likely won’t ever happen unless you end up with an unforgiving immigration officer and then you’re stuck! I got off with a warning once and thankfully my passport has been renewed since then! Don’t risk it!

    • Our opinion is that it’s a decent idea, but it’s not like you’ll get amazing deals that aren’t anywhere else. They often give you onboard credit to book. Prices are around what you’ll find online.

    • Many cruise companies offer matching deposits on future cruises when booked on board. I believe Norwegian matches up to $250.

      • Yes you can get a good deal when you book whilst on board, we did, got $250 for the next cruise which we are going to use on our next cruise., used it for the deposit.

    • Not that we’ve seen. We would suggest using only non-marking items — so tape, not glue — to stick things to the door.

      • I have read elsewhere that tape is forbidden on the door. It makes a mess for the staff to clean up. I can understand that some tapes are non-marking, but you can get almost anything with magnets, or just glue magnets to almost anything.

  12. We always bring water shoes when we cruise. Some excursions require them & they’re also a less slippery alternative to flip-flops on the pool deck.

  13. Thank Youall !

    Always bring a list of what you need too.

    Duct Tape has so many uses.. Highlighter to mark the Daily Programs too.

    Now with those dang Electric Swithes when you leave your cabin.. Bring an Old Credit Card to insert and Duct tAPE THAT TOO..

  14. I have a small round essential oil diffuser that I use with lavender oil in my stateroom…so relaxing as the boat rocks you to sleep each night!

  15. It’s interesting that cruise lines will give cheap fares to people during the off-seasons. My fiance and I want to go on a cruise but we don’t make a lot of money. I’ll have to tell her that if we go during November or something close to that.

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